China has warned Europe that its failure to recognize its power is declining is inviting further retaliation from Beijing in their escalating trade row. “The change of the times and the shifts of power have failed to change the condescending attitude of some Europeans,” People’s Daily, the ruling Communist party’s mouthpiece, said on Thursday. “China doesn’t want a trade war, but trade protectionism cannot but trigger a counterattack.”
It said that Beijing could take yet more measures against the EU. “We have set the table for talks [yet] there are still plenty of cards we can play,” the newspaper wrote. The angry editorial was published under the name “Zhong Sheng”, a pen-name that sounds the same as “Voice of China” and is seen as authoritative representation of official views. Other state media carried similar commentaries. Beijing is hitting out after Brussels imposed duties this week on solar panels imported from China. On Wednesday, the Chinese government responded by launching an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation against European wine.
But this was seen as a symbolic move in that wine exports to China come largely from states who support the solar tariffs move, such as France, Spain and Italy, while Germany – which Beijing regards as the true power of the union – has made its disapproval of Brussels’ hardliner position clear. While China has said it would welcome negotiations on the solar panel case, the People’s Daily is correct in saying that Beijing has “plenty more cards” to play. Wine exports represent a tiny fraction of the €433.6bn in bilateral trade between China and the EU.
“If the EU thinks that it can safeguard its interests through sanctions, it will have to realize that it is no longer facing the China of the past,” said Chen Zhimin, a professor specializing in EU diplomacy at Fudan University in Shanghai. Thursday’s tirade follows years of pent-up frustration at Europe’s eroding power and what Chinese officials see as the group’s complex and inefficient policy making and decision mechanisms. Increasingly, Chinese officials have been trying to deal with national governments instead of Brussels and Beijing has sent strong messages that it sees Germany as a leader in Europe.
The People’s Daily article reflects this and specifically targets the Brussels bureaucracy. “Europe’s decision system has run into problems,” it said. “Despite clear opposition from a majority of the member countries, the trade commissioner [Karel] De Gucht stirred up trouble in such a complicated and sensitive issue. That is abnormal,” it said.
But the editorial’s language is also likely to touch a nerve outside the EU as it adds to growing rhetoric out of Beijing emphasizing China’s aspiration to great power status and the decline of the West.
Ahead of his summit with US President Barack Obama on Friday in California, Xi Jinping, the party chief who took over as China’s president in March, has expressed the hope that the two countries can move to a “new type of great power relationship”. In the West, the phrase, in combination with Mr Xi’s rhetoric about a “Chinese dream” and the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ has been read as a sign that China is becoming more overt in its pursuit of global power. “We are now looking at a Beijing which positions itself as an equal to the US and superior to a lot of smaller nations,” said a Western diplomat.
Prof Chen said a majority in China would agree that the EU’s slower growth rates compared with many emerging markets had left it in relative decline. “In addition, the EU faces a lot of problems,” he said. “If it continues down this path, it will be declining absolutely.”